An Unpronounceable Volcano

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was stuck in London for 6 days on account of the unpronounceable Icelandic Volcano.

It is no small miracle then, that I find myself, a week later, at home writing these series of posts from the comfort of my home. This was one of the most stressful events ever in my life, not because I was in any immediate bodily danger, but because I was not in control of my return trip. The trip to London was meant to last 2 days, but when the European airspace was closed indefinitely, it calamitously brought my world to a halt. I was rendered helpless by the turn of events around me. I could no longer choose how I wanted to leave, let alone choose when I would leave. The stoppage of air traffic meant that I could be stuck in UK for weeks, or even months. It's this helplessness that caused me much grief. And I wasn't alone.

Speaking with other folks from my company who were similarly stuck in London with no exit options, I found that they mirrored my state of mind almost exactly. Neither of them was looking at this sudden shock as a "free vacation", where they could take time out to enjoy London, or to just focus on work. Each one of my stranded compatriots were looking at ways to escape from this island jail, and to reach home where the families are. As one colleague joked (wryly, no doubt) to his wife, "Why don't you buy two ads in the India news should be my Obituary, and another should be a Matrimonial ad for yourself"! No jokes were off color!

No choices were too undesirable, as we share alternate means of return. We heard that Paris airport was open one day, and Madrid and Barcelona were open on other days. We heard that the British Royal Navy was sending ships to Spain to get their citizen back from Spain...and the ships may have room on the ride out. Eurostar trains to Paris ran on a certain schedule, and may have room in a couple of days. We found out that a taxi ride to Paris was 5 hours, and Madrid was 24 hours. We even discovered that in the event of a complete shutdown of European airspace for the next few months, there were cruise ships (a la The Titanic!!!!!) that ran across the Atlantic.

The media circus was not helping at all. In the six days I stayed extra, I became quite familiar with the British press- print, online and television. The press was tossed between reporting on the Volcano disaster, and the forthcoming elections. The reportage on the air travel chaos was full of "breaking news" that was essentially regurgitated across all media. Authentic news was mixed with rumors, opinion and conjecture.

I experienced firsthand that there is a clear link between the mind and the stomach. It's called psychosomatic stress, and it's a not a pleasant roller coaster to be riding. The stress and anxiety in the mind affects the stomach, where the stomach is made to create excess stomach acid. Now, the stomach is upset for days. On day 2, when the external anxiety has abated (after all, there was no immediate risk to me or my family), but the stomach is still producing excess acid. This trips the brain into thinking that, "Hey! The body is upset about something. What could it be upset about"? Conveniently, the brain finds much to be upset about, and the whole show gets into it's second season. This cycle worsened every day, until I realized that the only way to fix the mind is to fix the stomach first. A couple of days of Zantac later, I was ready to take on official conference calls with the ferocity of a tiger.

(Look up books by Robert Sapolsky to learn more about stress in human beings and other animals. Here's a starter lecture on youtube).

Count your blessings. The benefits of a devout early education is that I still remember the morning assembly prayers about "Count your blessings, name them one by one...". Very clearly, if I HAD to be held up for an indefinite period, London would be the best place to be at. I had friends and family in the city, was put up in a hotel, had an office to go to, and was personally quite safe and happy.

Even more importantly, it was clear that there were much larger entities at work that would get me out of London quickly. All the airlines were losing money every day they didn't fly, and there is no way they would give up their battle to open up the airspace. Also, there were more people stuck OUTSIDE the UK trying to get in, than there were INSIDE the UK trying to get out. Which means that it would be easier to get out of the place than it would be to get.

I am treating this episode as a wake up call. Maybe the global jet-setting lifestyle needs to be re-thought. There is a price we pay, every time we fly away from our family and loved ones. Should we have stayed home?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Are you the same Gaurav Rastogi who used to study in KVSC, Pune?

Please feel free to revert back in case you are, at